Wat­son ‘light years’ ahead of last sea­son

Houston Chronicle - - SPORTS - JOHN M cCLAIN On the Tex­ans

Some things are worth wait­ing for.

Like Tex­ans quar­ter­back De­shaun Wat­son be­ing the last player off the prac­tice field be­fore his ses­sion with the me­dia Wed­nes­day.

Re­porters waited while Wat­son worked fever­ishly in 95-de­gree heat long after his team­mates had left Hous­ton Methodist Train­ing Cen­ter for their locker room in NRG Sta­dium.

Drenched in sweat, Wat­son knew what the first ques­tion would be.

“The knee is do­ing good,” he said.

And that’s good for the Tex­ans and their fans,who ex­pect a dra­matic turn­around from last sea­son’s 4-12 dis­as­ter.

Expectations hinge on Wat­son stay­ing healthy.

It has been more than eight months since Wat­son un­der­went surgery to re­pair a torn ACL in his right knee. His progress re­ports have been pos­i­tive since he jogged on the field April 16 for two weeks of con­di­tion­ing that kicked off the off­sea­son pro­gram.

“For the nine-week goal we put in from the be­gin­ning (of the off­sea­son pro­gram), I’m pretty much where I wanted to be,” he said. “(I) kind of passed (tests) in the weight room (and) men­tally and also on the field, so ev­ery­thing’s go­ing smoothly right now.

“I’m not re­ally sur­prised. I kind of knew where I was go­ing to be be­cause I put the time and the work in every morn­ing. I’m right where I need to be and where I want to be.”

Coach Bill O’Brien and quar­ter­backs coach Sean Ryan are care­ful to tem­per their com­ments about Wat­son. They don’t want to sound overly ex­cited at this point. But the truth is every­one in the or­ga­ni­za­tion is thrilled at the progress Wat­son has made phys­i­cally and men­tally.

“I’m light years from where I was last year,” Wat­son said. “Com­ing in as a rookie, just kind of know­ing what I knew from col­lege and what I learned in the pre-draft (prepa­ra­tion) and then what I learned in the QB room. Ev­ery­thing was go­ing so fast.

“Hav­ing a full sea­son and (an) off­sea­son with coach OB and coach Sean Ryan (and) be­ing able to ad­vance my game and take (it) to an­other level, it’s been great.” A rookie year to re­mem­ber

If Wat­son is light years from where he was last year, imag­ine what he’s ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing this sea­son if he stays healthy.

It doesn’t get tire­some to re­hash Wat­son’s rookie ac­com­plish­ments be­fore he suf­fered the in­jury in prac­tice: 19 touch­down passes, an NFL record for a quar­ter­back in his first seven games. A pace for 43 touch­down passes. An av­er­age of 34 points a game in his six starts, in­clud­ing 39 in his last five starts. A 40.5-point av­er­age in the four games he played with start­ing re­ceivers DeAndre Hop­kins and Will Fuller.

With a year of ex­pe­ri­ence, Wat­son is con­vinced he can do bet­ter. But how will he do it?

“Go 10 times harder (and) keep im­prov­ing my game,” he said. “Just fo­cus on me. Stay in my own lane, don’t worry about what the other teams are go­ing to do.

“When­ever that time comes, be pre­pared for every sit­u­a­tion and for a sit­u­a­tion that I haven’t been through and a look that I haven’t seen. Play fast through it and learn while I’m do­ing it.”

O’Brien is adding new wrin­kles to the of­fense be­cause he knows de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tors will be pre­pared for what Wat­son did last sea­son. They’re al­ways look­ing for ways to take ad­van­tage of Wat­son’s tal­ent and keep de­fenses off bal­ance. They’ll re­veal very lit­tle be­fore the sea­son be­gins at New Eng­land. O’Brien fi­nally set at QB

Wat­son has been watching a lot of tape of NFL de­fenses. He’s like a sponge when he’s an­a­lyz­ing what op­po­nents may try to do to chal­lenge him.

“You’re al­ways learn­ing some­thing new be­cause the de­fense is al­ways chang­ing or get­ting more ad­vanced,” he said. “I’m gain­ing a lot of trust in my prepa­ra­tion and the things I do be­fore I take the snap and kind of rec­og­nize what the de­fense is in.”

O’Brien will never ad­mit it, but he couldn’t be hap­pier with Wat­son’s progress and what the two of them will be ca­pa­ble of when the sea­son be­gins. O’Brien is hard to please, and, like Wat­son, he’s never sat­is­fied.

“With the work ethic he has and the mind­set he has, you’re go­ing to get bet­ter at knowl­edge of of­fense, knowl­edge of de­fense (and) your own me­chan­ics,” O’Brien said. “There’s just been a lot of im­prove­ment in a lot of dif­fer­ent ar­eas, and he’ll keep it go­ing over the next five weeks, and he’ll be ready to go for train­ing camp.”

This is the first time since Matt Schaub played that the Tex­ans will have the same start­ing quar­ter­back in con­sec­u­tive sea­sons.

“We know who our start­ing quar­ter­back is, and, ob­vi­ously, we’re very com­fort­able with that,” O’Brien said. “All that means is we’re set­tled there. It doesn’t mean any­thing rel­a­tive to last year.

“It just means, ‘Hey, look, we have to (be) ready to go in train­ing camp, and we’ve got to con­tinue where we left off from when he was the quar­ter­back.’ That’s kind of what it means rel­a­tive to that po­si­tion.”

Imag­ine O’Brien’s eu­pho­ria right now. Ryan Fitz­patrick, Brian Hoyer, Brock Osweiler and Tom Sav­age were the Tex­ans’ start­ing quar­ter­backs when they re­ported for camp in each of O’Brien’s first four sea­sons.

Wat­son is ready to re­ward the faith “coach OB” is show­ing in him. And he does it by learn­ing and ma­tur­ing al­most every day in his quest to be­come an elite quar­ter­back over a 16game sea­son and in the play­offs.

“I can be bet­ter, and (I) will get bet­ter,” Wat­son said. “In (the last) nine weeks, I’ve gained a lot on and off the field — men­tally, emo­tion­ally, spir­i­tu­ally.

“I’ve been able to take my game to an­other level.” john.mc­c­clain@chron.com twit­ter.com/mc­clain_on_nfl

Brett Coomer / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Tex­ans quar­ter­back De­shaun Wat­son, left, shows some good rap­port with wide re­ceiver Bruce Elling­ton.

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